23 - Canaanite Woman, February 10, 2013

I Timothy 1:15-17

Matthew 15:21-28


Jesus answered her not a word. At least one other time is it recorded that Jesus answered not a word to someone, and that was at His trial, when He answered Herod, then Pilate and His accusers, the chief priests and elders of the people, not a word. (Mt 27:13)

And yet, how different are the two events, and how different the outcomes! The Canaanite woman comes to Jesus in humility and grief, seeking healing for her daughter; Pilate presumes to judge the Lord. When finally, the Lord does answer the Canaanite woman, his words are a sharp, stinging rebuke. Yet, her answer is all humility: “Yes, Lord,” she says, “I am a dog.” “I am a sinner,” or as we read in this morning’s epistle: “I am the first of all sinners,” or as we pray in the canon of repentance: “I have given myself over to the passions and become like unto the wild beasts!”

As for Pilate, when the Lord gives him “no answer” (Jn 19:9), he becomes angry and indignant. Instead of showing the mind, for example, of the Canaanite woman, he says angrily to Him: “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?" (Jn 19:10)

The humility of the Canaanite woman, her “laying aside every defense” and acknowledging the Lord’s rebuke that she is a sinner, even a “dog”, leads to the healing of her daughter. Pilate’s arrogance and presumption leads him to form a worldly friendship with Herod, altogether indifferent to the suffering he is causing the Lord, a man whom he himself has acknowledge to be just, having no fault in Him, when he hands him over to be crucified.

Surely, the lesson of this morning’s Gospel isn’t hard to discern as we round the bend of the Church’s liturgical journey and come in sight of the spires of the gates of Great Lent beginning to poke their head above the horizon of the liturgical year, only five weeks away now. In our attitude to God, are we more like Pilate or the Canaanite woman? Do we dare to judge God, demanding that He conform to our expectations in the arrogant presumption of entitlement? And when He doesn’t answer us, do we get angry as did Pilate? We may not say what Pilate said, but perhaps we do what Pilate did? By the power of our will we dismiss Him from our life and form our friendship with the world and its values and wisdom.

Or, do we follow the Canaanite woman, and fall to our knees in the grief and sorrow of her repentance and cry out: “Yes, Lord, I am a sinner. I am a dog. I have been conceited and vain; I am bound by the desires and pleasures of the flesh. I have loved the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. I am impure, unclean, darkened because of my self-centered conceit, and I have become like unto the wild beasts on account of my sins. I have no right to call on you, let alone bring myself into your presence; I have no business presuming you would answer any request of mine, let alone that you would even listen to me. I confess, O Lord, and I do believe that I am the first of all sinners. But, Lord, did you not come into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first?

Here is the mystery, the marvel, the wonder! The worldly powers in arrogance and presumption judge the Lord, and even though the world can find no fault in Him, it crucifies Him with callous indifference. Yet, even from the Cross, the Lord still seeks to save even the presumptuous and self-righteous who judge Him and crucify Him. “Father,” He cries out, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do!”

Do we have any reason to believe that the Father would not listen to His Beloved Son in whom He is well-pleased? I believe that the Father heard the prayer of His Son, and for the sake of His own goodness and compassion did forgive those who crucified the Lord.

But, did they want God’s forgiveness? Did they ever become repentant in order to seek it and find it?

Brothers and sisters, I suggest that we find the Father’s forgiveness, which He has freely bestowed on all – not because of our goodness, for we’ve done nothing good on the earth, but for the sake of His own mercy and goodness and compassion – only to the degree that we bend our knees in the sorrow of a broken and contrite heart as did the Canaanite woman. Where there is arrogance and presumption in our heart, there the curtain of the Royal Doors that open onto the tomb of our heart remains closed. And, to that degree, the love of the Father is unknown to us, a religious idea at best, an intellectual abstraction. What we know, what we see with our eyes and hear with our ears is the din of the world gathered at the foot of the Cross, crucifying the Lord of Glory, a din that is familiar to us, a din we take to be but the ordinary sounds of the world going about its normal business.

St Simeon the New Theologian goes as far as to say that if we do not weep, literally, daily for our sins, our hearts will not be purified, they will never be kindled with the fire of God’s love, and the eyes of our soul remain blind, our ears remain deaf, and our souls remain crippled. We will never see God or hear Him. Instead of driving us to our knees in the sorrow of repentance, as it did the Canaanite woman, His silence toward us will drive us to the anger of Pilate’s judgment; and, we will crucify Him in the hubris of our mind. We will dismiss Him from our life as irrelevant, judge Him as an out of date superstition, an old folk tale, or an outdated religious symbol.

As we begin to make our preparations for Great Lent, I hear this morning’s Gospel calling us to examine ourselves: have I ever wept, literally, over my sins, not crocodile tears of sentimentality, but “ascetic” tears from the heart? Do I even seek the gift of such tears of genuine and heart-felt contrition? Do I fast? Do I pray? Do I strive to practice the commandments of the Savior? If not, it is a sign of the hardness of my heart, a sign that I am like Pilate, not the Canaanite woman; and my joy will be the joy Pilate had in his friendship with Herod, and not the joy of the Canaanite woman whose daughter was saved.

May God have mercy on us. Amen.